By Kevin Anthony Stoda
I have a lot of Germanic blood on both sides of my family. Previously, I have written on the topic of being an American in Germany and being either of German descent (or simply German) in America previously. One writing of mine was a review of the book TEARING THE SILENCE: On Being German in America , a collection of interviews which were conducted, compiled and edited by psychologist Ursula Hegi.
Heggi focused primarily on Germans who were mostly too young to remember WWII (and felt little responsibility for the Hitler era) but who had grown of age in America following WWII.
Recently, I came across another set of historical examples on the perplexing reality of the Germanic peoples in the American landscape of the 20th Century. This particular topic encompasses the great internment of the Germans, Japanese, Italians, and many Latin American German and Japanese in the USA during WWII.
I had long been familiar with the Japanese internments and believe that the Japanese Stodas were also interned at that time. However, until I came across a series of websites and oral histories on the topic of German internment in WWII, I had had no idea how pervasive internment of potential American enemies had been during the Great War against Fascism.
THE SILENCE IN AMERICA ON GERMAN INTERNMENT
The silence on German, Italian, and Latin American internments is still great in places as hot as Crystal City, Texas (120 degrees at times) and as cold and as snowy as Ft. Missoula, Montana or Ft. Lincoln, North Dakota. One web project that is beginning to tell these imprisoned people's stories is at the German American Internee Coalition site.
The site shares:
"German Americans constitute the largest ethnic group in the US. Approximately 60 million Americans claim German ancestry. German American loyalty to America's promise of freedom traces back to the Revolutionary War. Nevertheless, during World War II, the US government and many Americans viewed ethnic Germans and others of "enemy ancestry' as potentially dangerous, particularly recent immigrants. The Japanese American World War II experience is well known. Few, however, know of the European American World War II experience, particularly that of the German Americans and Latin Americans. We also have much to learn about the Japanese and Italian Latin American programs. The focus of this overview is the US resident German experience, however. The programs were applied to all of "enemy ancestry" with varying ramifications. For more information regarding the internment of Germans from Latin America, click here. For more information regarding the related legal framework, click here.
The US government used many interrelated, constitutionally questionable methods to control those of enemy ancestry, including internment, individual and group exclusion from military zones, internee exchanges for Americans held in Germany, deportation, "alien enemy' registration requirements, travel restrictions and property confiscation. The human cost of these civil liberties violations was high. Families were disrupted, reputations destroyed, homes and belongings lost. Meanwhile, untold numbers of German Americans fought for freedom around the world, including their ancestral homelands. Some were the immediate relatives of those subject to oppressive restrictions on the home front. Pressured by the US, Latin American governments arrested at least 8500 German Latin Americans. An unknown number were sent directly to Germany, while 4,050 were shipped in dark boat holds to the United States and interned. At least 2,650 US and Latin American resident immigrants of German ethnicity and their native-born children were later exchanged for Americans and Latin Americans held in Germany. Some allege that internees were captured to use as exchange bait.
There is little wonder that so many of our ancestors did not pass down German or other languages to the second and third generations here in the USA.
Most German-Americans only have found out about their ancestors having been interned through accident.
The erasing of memories and the shame that internment had brought has almost been complete over the last few generations. Deborah McCarty Smith writes of John Heitman's experience growing up in post-WWII America:
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